An anonymous jury will hear the case of six men accused of plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, a federal judge ruled last week.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler on Sept. 6 rejected defense complaints that such a jury would be biased. He agreed with federal prosecutors that the trial presents an exceptional case and could create apprehensive jurors.
Several factors led to his decision, including pretrial publicity, he said.
?Clearly, there is extraordinary media attention,? Kugler said during a pretrial conference with defense lawyers.
Keeping the names of jurors sealed is an unusual step, but it has been used in a number of federal cases, including some involving allegations of terrorism and organized crime.
The six were arrested in May and charged with planning to raid the New Jersey military installation, which is being used largely to train reservists bound for Iraq.
Kugler has been pushing for a trial later this year, but defense lawyers said they might not be prepared by then to defend a case that involved hundreds of hours of conversations recorded by two paid government informants.
Five of the men ? the brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka; Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer; and Serdar Tatar ? face life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder military personnel. The sixth, Agron Abdullahu, is charged with weapons offenses punishable by 10 years in prison. His lawyer said he would move to have Abdullahu tried separately.
All six have pleaded not guilty.
The suspects, all in their 20s, were born overseas but have spent many years living in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Authorities said the six scouted out East Coast military installations to find one to attack but settled on Fort Dix largely because Tatar knew his way around from delivering pizzas to the base for his father?s restaurant.
Prosecutors said they were concerned that jurors could be intimidated because of the nature of the charges and the possibility the media would pursue jurors if their names were released.
?There is a need to limit the intrusion, potentially, into jurors? lives,? said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Stigall.
The judge said that while the suspects are not accused of being part of a terrorist organization, there are groups in the United States that could sympathize with views attributed to the suspects.
He decided the that defense teams would know what town a juror is from, but not their name or street address.
All six defense lawyers opposed the prosecution bid for an anonymous jury. Rocco Cipparone, the lawyer for Shnewer, argued that the suspects have little ability to harm jurors because they are being held in near-isolation at a federal detention center in Philadelphia.
All six suspects attended the 90-minute hearing Sept. 6, seated in the jury box, shackled and wearing green prison garb. Most smiled as they entered the courtroom and looked toward about 30 family members, including children, who were attending.
Kugler has set a Nov. 5 trial date, but defense lawyers said they might not be prepared by then.
Michael Huff, the lawyer for Dritan Duka, said translations of evidence in Arabic and Albanian won?t be completed for at least another six weeks and that it will be difficult to formulate pretrial motions and questions for potential jurors until they can assess all the evidence.
Those motions may include seeking a new location for the trial because of the extensive publicity in the South Jersey-Philadelphia region, said Abdullahu attorney Richard Coughlin.
The judge said they would discuss the potential of a later date at the next status conference, on Sept. 25, when federal prosecutors are to tell the court whether they have received clearance to use classified material as evidence.